Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why I Love...Liesel Meminger

"A snowball to the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship."
The Book Thief

Most people have no idea who Liesel Meminger is, but those who have read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief  would probably rate her among one of the best characters in the book, if not most books.  For that reason alone, she is my Favorite Character.

Liesel...how do I even describe her?!  She lives in a time and place that most of us would shudder at...Nazi Germany.  After her younger brother's death, her mother sends her to a small town in Germany in order to keep her safe.  She is fostered by Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who happen to live, fittingly, on Himmel Strasse (Heaven Street).  We come to see Liesel and how she interacts with her foster parents and the other citizens in the area.  She even becomes friends with a fist-fighting Jew who hides in her basement.  It is during her time in this town that Liesel develops, or hones, her knack of stealing books.  And she doesn't discriminate who she steals from.  This is such an endearing quality, despite the illegality, especially when her stealing becomes a form of unintentional political statement.

Another aspect that makes this book stand out is that it's narrated by Death.  We get to see Liesel and those who surround her through Death's eyes and this adds something special to it.  Eventually, Death narrates from a distance as Liesel becomes the eyes through which we see.  She develops meaningful relationships with the Hubermann's and with a local boy, Rudy Steiner, who's her age.  Her interactions with Rudy are some of the most loveable, beautiful, and tragic scenes throughout the book.  And there is one specific moment between them that leaves readers speechless.

You go through so many emotions with Liesel throughout The Book Thief that she feels like a part of you.  A long lost friend.  A constant companion.  A child to be protected.  She is all of these things and more.

"The only thing worse than a boy who hates you:  a boy who loves you."
The Book Thief

Runner-Up (and rightfully deserved)...Severus Snape.  It was so hard for me to not have a tie between these two characters.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Excerpt from Mary Karr's The Liar's Club:  A Memoir ...

"Daddy had instructed me in the virtue of what he called equalizers, which meant not only sticks, boards, and rocks, but having one hell of a long memory for mistreatment.  So I wouldn't hesitate to sneak up blindside and bite a bigger kid who'd gotten the better of me a week before.  To my knowledge, I never slouched off an ass-kicking, even the ones that made me double up and cry" (63).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cat's Eye...Oy Vey...

Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye was...was...waaasssss...I don't even know how to describe it.  It just was. 

It took me a bit to get into this book and it took me even longer to finish it.  I can't put my finger on why I didn't enjoy it.  It's not like the book was absolutely terrible (believe me, I've read worse), but for some reason it just didn't grasp my attention or keep my attention.

The novel centers around Elaine, an artist...though she prefers to be called a painter because the term "artist" conjurs up pretension, according to her.  She's come back to Toronto, her hometown, for a gallery show and, while there, she spends her time wandering around the much changed city.  The reader is taken back to her childhood through interspersed chapters and it is these sections that hold the most appeal.  Through these episodes you really get to know what drives Elaine and why she left Toronto in the first place.  Also, Elaine focuses a lot of her reminiscing on Cordelia, a childhood friend, whom she wants to meet up with during her time in Toronto. 

Cordelia is an ever present entity throughout the book.  She pops up all throughout and the reader thinks there might be something brewing towards the end.  Unfortunately that never pans out.  You're kind of left wondering about Cordelia and everything else.  Like what the Cat's Eye really has to do with anything besides being a beloved marble.  It was frustrating and unfulfilling. 



On a more happy note...this weekend proves to be epic!  I'm heading out of town ...well, out of state and across the country really...to attend a wonderful friend's Southern wedding!!!  Congrats to the happy couple and I can't wait to see you both!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why I Love...Powell's!

With the recent closing of our local Borders (where I spent a lot of time not only reading, but grading papers and drinking coffee), I have been forced to either frequent used bookshops or venture into ordering my books online.  I've never had a problem with either of these options, but I think that Powell's presents the best of BOTH worlds!  This is why Powell's is my Favorite Book Institution.

Powell's New and Used Bookstore is located in downtown Portland, Oregon and is simply amazing!  Now, the website leaves a lot to the imagination, but let me tell you this place is a treasure trove of awesomness! 
First off, Powell's encompasses an entire city block, boasts an awesome coffee shop, has both new and used copies, requires a map and color coded signs to get around, AND you can even get married in your favorite section!  Now that's pretty great. 

Powell's was opened in 1971, very humbly, and continued to grow into the great entity it is today and now has more than five locations throughout the city (though the largest and most comprehensive is the downtown location).  It's said that Powell's is the largest new and used bookstore in the world.  You can find just about anything that you're looking for in this mega-bookstore; from hardback to paperback and new books to used books...all on the same shelf.  Not only do they have their regular city locations, but you can also find an annex and two satellite stores at Portland International Airport.

I think one of the most amazing things about this bookstore is the experience.  Walking through the stacks is an adventure every single time and you never know what you're going to find just around the corner.
I remember my first time entering Powell's.  It was in the late fall in college with a couple of girlfriends and simply overwhelming.  The smell as you walk in (glue, paper, old books, coffee, and more) is divine.  We spent hours scouring the shelves and didn't even make it to every room...or floor. 
Now that's a map!!  
Again, the directional signs really do help you to navigate the labyrinth that is Powell's.

I highly recommend that, if you're ever in the area, Powell's is near the top of your "Must See and Do" list.  It's worth venturing into the city and definitely worth all the money you'll spend on books you simply can't live without.  Powell's...simply amazing!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesday (first one)!

Excerpt from Born on a Blue Day:  Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet

"Neil did not find it difficult to accept me for who I was.  He too had been bullied at school and knew what it was like to be different from your peers.  Being a homebody himself he didn't mind that I preferred the quiet and security of home to the commotion of pubs and clubs.  Most important of all, he--like me--had reached a crossroads in his life and wasn't sure about the way forward.  Through our chance meeting online we had both of us discovered, to our mutual surprise and joy, that thing that had been missing from both our lives:  romantic love." (145)

*Look for my review in the next week or so!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why I Love...Charlotte Doyle

Once again, this blog I follow has brought forth another great idea.  I've decided that, in addition to my book reviews, I'm going to participate (you can too!) in her "Why I Love...Wednesdays" (I'm also going to do her "Teaser Tuesday," but I forgot yesterday...whoops).  Not only will this give my blog a little bit more to offer the two of you who read it (haha), but it will force me to post a bit more often.  It's like killing two birds with one stone (or post).  I like this idea.  So, to get started, I've taken the past "Why I Loves" from the Bookaholic and have decided to start working my way through the weekly growing list.  Needless to say, I'm a little behind.  My first selection is:  Favorite Childhood Friend.

This honor goes, undoubtably, to Charlotte Doyle.  I remember picking up Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle when I was in elementary school; I don't recall exactly when, but it was definitely in my younger years.  Little did I know how much this book would stick with me and how I would still consider it one of my all-time favorite books. 

Charlotte, at the age of thirteen, has just completed finishing school in England and is about to set sail to Rhode Island and home.  Instead of the few families that are scheduled to be on the crossing, she comes to find that she is the only female (and passenger) that actually makes it to the ship.  As they cross the Atlantic, many adventures ensue.  Though I wouldn't necessarily categorize a lot of what happens to Charlotte as an adventure, such as being accused of murder, mutiny, an epic storm, and so much more, she fights through everything with a strength only to be admired and a broadening of her own personal horizons.

I think this is the reason I love her so much.  She's passionate, friendly, hard-headed, and a fighter.  All things that are not supposed to be a part of someone who's gone to "finishing" school.  There is so much action that Charlotte faces while on the high seas that every girl wishes they were her; at least I did.  The end of the book even throws a nice twist into everything.  It's an epic book with an even more epic heroine.  Everyone should read about Charlotte and her story and, I guarantee, you will come through loving her as much as I do.  And now I want to read this for the umpteenth time!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Smiling Irish Guys...Yes, Please! (Book #14)

I quickly plowed through Suzanne Supplee's When Irish Guys are Smiling yesterday around midnight (finishing after getting back from an evening of drinks with a couple friends) and have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  Having picked this book up at, of all places, the Dollar Tree (I found twelve such dollar gems there recently), I'm rather proud of my investment.  Even if it had sucked I would have only been out a dollar.  Nothing to break the bank!  Thankfully, it didn't suck.

The book is technically a young reader (sometimes you need mindless, easy reads) and I was attracted to many aspects of the novel:  1) the cover art is attractive in a cartoon-y way.  2) the title reminds me of my first trip to Ireland with my good friend, Lindsey, in 2008.  3) it makes me reminisce over my time spent living in the UK (sigh...).  And 4)  I pretty much love anything set in Ireland or Scotland.

Irish Guys is part of an ongoing series called Students Across the Seven Seas, or the S.A.S.S. for short.  Each book is about a student, and other students they meet, who semesters abroad in a different location.  This is my first in the S.A.S.S. series and I'm sure I'll read more (just for the chance to read something light...and not set in the States).

The book focuses on Delk, a seventeen year old girl from Tennessee who decides to escape her "tragic" life and head to Connemara, Ireland for three months.  Along the way she meets new friends, has life-altering experiences, grows as a person, and falls in love (to be expected).  Though at times the episodes seem implausible, they do fit with the plot of the story.  The one thing I disliked about this book was some of the characters names.  Delk and her love interest, Pather, made me constantly refer to them as "Elk" and "Panther" because of the similar spelling.  At times this was completely unconscious.  Oh well.  If the only bad thing I can say about the book are the names, then it's not too shabby.

For who this book is geared toward and for what it was, I found this to be a good read.  Nice work, Supplee!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Going Rogue with Sarah Palin

Though I'm not a big fan of Sarah Palin, or her politics, I was mildly surprised and, at times, impressed with her book Going Rogue:  An American Life.  She does have a lot of good things to say about big government, the hands-off approach to governing, energy research, environmental issues, and life in general.  Though at times a bit preachy for my tastes (I disagree with some of her fundamental principles), but overall she explains herself well...golly's and all.

It's hard to determine how truthful she is being in regards to everything she discusses.  I was impressed with a lot of what she's done for Alaska through her policies and certain laws.  I think the part that I was most leary about was her recollection of the presidential campaign and how she was treated by "Headquarters."    According to Palin, she was pretty much given a gag-order...keep your mouth shut and we'll feed you your lines.  I can see this being true.  I mean, she looked like a moron in a lot of her interviews (Katie Couric anyone?).  This, in Palin's words, was completely done through editing on Couric's part (again, I choose to believe this to be true).  I want to believe her, I really do.

All in all, Going Rogue wasn't a bad read.  Minus the preachy parts (abortion and sex education mainly), she's engaging, witty, and seemingly down to earth.  Whoda thunk it?!

Bianca's Vineyard (Book #13)

I've had Teresa Neumann's Bianca's Vineyard for a while now, thanks to my grandmother, but have been skipping over it to read other books.  I don't know why I did this because it was actually a great read.  Neumann is a local author who decided to write a novel about family history.  The majority of the novel is based on factual evidence and personal family interviews.  There is one portion, which I won't give away, that is only speculated at by Neumann, but what she does choose to speculate is a highly probably scenario.

The book is written in a way that suggests it is being told to the reader, as well as Egisto's son and his wife, through flashbacks from Bianca in her 80's.  We know this because the font and boldness of these sections gives personal reflection from Bianca and foreshadows what she will eventually reveal.  She takes you back to the beginning of what changed the course for this family, mainly one brother of the Bertozzi family moving to America in order to help his Italian family, and continues to present day.

Moving to America is a big deal at this time in history (1913) and Egisto, the brother moving, must find a wife before he leaves.  He's had his heart set on a specific woman but, after her father veto's Egisto's decision to marry outside of the Church, he must come up with an alternative.  This decision alters the family in unseen ways. 

We follow the the Bertozzi family through good, prosperous times and through absolutely desolate, terrible times (mainly World War Two and mental breakdowns).  We also come to learn about Egisto's wife and her family.  All of this plays importantly into the people of this novel.

Bianca's Vineyard is a novel that portrays the human condition and family ties beautifully.  I was surprised by how much I actually liked this book and would not hesitate recommending it to others.  Good choice, Grandma!